NFL Free Agency Preview
On the previous page, I mentioned that the Bucs have about $12.1 million in cap space, as it stands right now. However, there are some moves they can make to improve that cap in their favor, depending on how savage they are willing to get with the current roster. PewterReport.com’s Scott Reynolds first outlined some of these potential cap casualties in his SR’s Fab 5 about a month ago.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is owed $10 million in base salary next season. Cutting or trading him frees up that amount. Jackson has expressed his desire to no longer play for the Buccaneers, so this could happen. Another potential candidate is defensive end Vinny Curry, who is owed $8 million next season, and also has a zero cap penalty, if cut. The same with defensive end William Gholston, who would save $3.75 million.
The Bucs could potentially move on from Cam Brate via a trade and save his $7 million base salary, but that is unlikely, as he has such a strong rapport with quarterback Jameis Winston. If the Bucs want to move on from defensive tackle Beau Allen, they could. He would save them $5 million.
Then, of course, there are the big ones, Winston and defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. Winston is owed about $20.92 million in cap space for next season with his fifth-year option, but he isn’t going anywhere. McCoy is owed $13 million, and has no dead cap money, if he is cut or traded.
Realistically, the Bucs could save anywhere from $10 million to $43.75 million in cap space by trimming their roster before free agency. With a varying degree of money to spend, here’s what they could spend it on:
The crown jewel, if you want to call it that, of this quarterback market, is likely Teddy Bridgewater or Tyrod Taylor. Both of those players are likely to command starter-type money rather than backup QB money they would be for the Buccaneers, so don’t expect a run at either of them.
I wouldn’t bring Fitzpatrick or Griffin back if I were the Buccaneers, so perhaps going after guys like Austin Davis, Trevor Siemian or even Brett Hundley could make some sense as a back up for the right price. All three have playing experience that Griffin doesn’t have.
I suspect the Bucs are going to want to spend some money at running back here, but the question then becomes how much and for whom?
The best two options for Tampa Bay in the pool are New Orleans’ Mark Ingram and Atlanta’s Tevin Coleman. I think the Buccaneers should go after both of these guys and be hopeful to land one of them. Market value puts Ingram at $4.4 million per year, while Coleman sits at around $5 million. If the Bucs can get either of those guys at that price, I would say do it.
Coleman can be a three-down player for the Buccaneers, and Ingram could be the pass-catching weapon Arians loves to use. They’re not signing both, but if you can get one, go for it. Tampa Bay need a run game upgrade badly, and they can’t wait around to see if last year’s second-round pick, Ronald Jones, can avoid being a bust and develop in his second year.
For depth players, Seattle’s Mike Davis, Minnesota’s Ameer Abdullah and Baltimore’s Ty Montgomery all make some sense. Davis can be a depth, early down guy where the other two can be experienced receiving backs.
Le’Veon Bell in Tampa Bay would be an absolute game changer. But is Tampa really about to pay the Pittsburgh running back $15-$17 million a year? They’d have to really work their magic to have the cap space to not only sign Bell, but also upgrade the offensive line to give Bell the running lanes, if they did.
No question Bell’s the best talent out there. But, if you ask me, I’d rather have Ingram or Coleman and more money to create a better offensive line.
There might not be much action here for the Buccaneers. Philadelphia’s Golden Tate, Green Bay’s Randall Cobb, Baltimore’s John Brown, Carolina’s Devin Funchess and New York Jets’ Robby Anderson and Humphries are the big players, and outside of Humphries, I can’t see any being Buccaneers. I do like the idea of perhaps getting Philadelphia’s Jordan Matthews or Detroit’s Bruce Ellington, who both made under $1 million this past season, as potential signees for WR3 or WR4, if the team moves on from Humphries.
Tampa Bay is pretty set here. The Bucs have Howard, Brate and Antony Auclair. I don’t expect much action outside of league-minimum guys and undrafted free agents for training camp.
Arizona’s Mike Iupati, Atlanta’s Andy Levitre, Los Angeles Rams’ Rodger Saffold, New York Jets’ James Carpenter and Pittsburgh’s Ramon Foster are the five highest paid offensive guards coming into free agency, but all are over 30 years of age. It’s not a great guard market this year. If the Bucs want to make a splash at guard, it will have to be through the draft.
As for center, Kansas City’s Mitch Morse is 27 years old and could be serviceable if you move him to guard with Ryan Jensen already established as the Bucs center. Likely better options in the draft, though.
If the Bucs do want to move on from Smith at left tackle or even if they don’t and just want to upgrade a right tackle with Dotson’s production slowing down, the best options in the pool this year are Brown from New England or Daryl Williams from Carolina, who is coming off an injury, or Ju’Waun James from Miami. Now, the problem is, those are all teams that need those guys at tackle, so it’s not likely they’d move on from them. That’s why the Bucs are in the dilemma with Smith.
It’s a very weak offensive line group in this free agency.
Interior Defensive Line
The top guys in this group are Los Angeles Rams’ Ndomuking Suh, Atlanta’s Grady Jarrett and Minnesota’s Sheldon Richardson, and it will cost quite a bit of money to get any of them, likely more than the Bucs are going to want to spend.
Dallas’ David Irving really intrigues me if you can get him for the right price. He’s an absolute freak of a player who really has not had his potential tapped in Dallas, but has had suspension and injury issues. I could see the Bucs making a run at him if his off the field issues are behind him, as he did only play in two games in 2018.
The Bucs could be in the market for another edge rusher depending on how much changing of the scheme to a 3-4 they want to do. Noah Spence would make sense as a potential stand-up linebacker, but at this point the former second-round pick can’t be counted on. Reserve linebacker Devante Bond should be gone.
Jason Pierre-Paul and Carl Nassib are more hand-in-the-dirt 4-3 defensive ends. Can they convert to 3-4 outside linebackers that can rush off the edge on passing downs and set the edge on rushing downs?
What happens with strongside linebacker Kendell Beckwith? Can he play edge? Will he replace Alexander in the middle? Will Beckwith be healthy enough to play in 2019?
For the Bucs, splash targets could be Dallas’ Demarcus Lawrence, New England’s Trey Flowers, Houston’s Jadeveon Clowney and Kansas City’s Dee Ford, but that’s more in theory than reality. Lawrence, Ford and Clowney are going to command stupid money. Lawrence could get close to $20 million a year, Clowney could be around $16-$17 million, and Ford will be around the same range as Clowney. Flowers will be right around $15 million. With Pierre-Paul already getting $14.9 million in 2019, I am not sure the Bucs can afford one of those top edge rushers, even though they’d love to.
If the Bucs are looking for some potential steal scoop-ups, my bet would be they go after someone like Atlanta’s Bruce Irvin or New York Jets’ Jeremiah Attaochu. Both of those players played for just $1.5 million last season, but Irvin will be 32 this year.
Baltimore’s C.J. Mosley, Cincinnati’s Preston Brown and Alexander are the top guys to get in this group, but if the Bucs are spending big money here, it would be on Alexander. I don’t think the Bucs will be big shoppers in free agency at linebacker outside of re-signing Alexander, due to them having Beckwith and also a potential to draft a linebacker this year, perhaps LSU’s Devin White, who was the top pick in PewterReport.com’s Bucs’ 2019 6-Round Mock Draft. If Tampa Bay brings Minter back, who is familiar with the system, that’s even more reason to not spend big bucks here.
Deone Bucannon is an interesting name, as he played the hybrid linebacker/safety role under Bowles in Arizona. San Diego’s Denzel Perryman, who is coming off a season-ending knee injury, is also a guy that interests me as a third linebacker to use in base formations. The Bucs can likely get those guys pretty cheap.
Man, you know what the Bucs need? A cornerback.
Man, you know what this free agency class does not have? A cornerback.
Denver’s Bradley Roby is the best of the bunch. He’ll likely command something around $12-$13 million per season. Kansas City’s Steven Nelson is next, and he’ll get right below $10 million per year. Chicago’s Bryce Callahan, who is coming off a broken foot in December, and Green Bay’s Bashaud Breeland are the other two big names. Each will probably get around $7 million. But all in all, I wouldn’t say the Bucs should go after any of those guys.
San Diego’s Jason Verrett or Indianapolis’ Pierre Desir as cornerback depth on the outside make a lot more sense for an easier price tag, if you ask me. Verrett is small and injury-prone, which should drive his value down, but he’s a very good player when healthy. Look for the Bucs to draft a cornerback, too. If you’re looking for a super sleeper free agent name, Seattle’s Kalan Reed is someone whose tape I really likely coming out of the 2016 draft, but he’s a restricted free agent.
I know what name you all want me to say. I do, but I’m not going to say it.
Okay, I’m going to say it.
Go get Honey Badger.
Tyrann Mathieu may not be quite the player he once was, but he never played better than when he was coached by Arians, and the two have a special bond as player and coach. Mathieu, who signed a one-year deal with Houston last year, won’t command bank-breaking money like he used to, and to play with Arians again, Tampa Bay would be at the front of his wish list if they got near his price tag. Mathieu got $7 million last year and I think the Bucs can get him for that amount, if not less, this year.
If not Mathieu, New York Giants’ Landon Collins is the big fish. We know the Bucs were interested in Collins when his name came up at the trade deadline this past season, but the price has to be right. Collins, as one of the better strong safeties in the game, will command something close to $9 million per year. To pair with Justin Evans, though, it would be worth it.
Seattle’s Earl Thomas is also in this pool, but I am not sure he has his sights set on anything other than playing for the Cowboys. He’ll be 30 years old for the 2019 season, and is coming off a broken leg. He’s still one of the best out there, but do the Bucs want an older Thomas over Collins or Mathieu? That depends on where they think Evans fits best. If Tampa Bay thinks Evans can be a free safety, the team should spend money on Collins or Mathieu. If the Bucs think Evans is a strong safety, perhaps they should overpay for a free safety like Thomas and hope for a big secondary splash.
Two other players to keep an eye on are Chicago’s Adrian Amos and Dallas’ Darian Thompson.
Those are some of the top free agents available for the Buccaneers, on the next page, we’ll get into who you think they should choose.